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Flathead County Commissioners vote down Phase I of proposed North Shore Woods Development

by JEREMY WEBER
For the Eagle | October 31, 2023 2:25 PM


Citing concerns about the possible impacts of future development, the Flathead County commissioners voted unanimously to deny the preliminary plat for a portion of the proposed North Shore Woods housing development Tuesday morning.

First considered by the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee (BLUAC) in late June, Longbow Land Partners, Inc. has also requested a Planned Unit Development (PUD) and zone change for the property to allow for 125 lots. The commissioners only voted on the initial phase of 51 lots.

After adding and amending several findings of fact pertaining to the proposed development to show their concerns, Commissioners Pamela Holmquist, Brad Abell and Randy Brodehl each took a moment to voice their reservations about the future of the project.

“It is really hard for me to approve something where it is so hard to anticipate the intent or what is really going on,” Holmquist said. “How do you assess the impacts when you know it is not just 51 lots moving forward and it’s actually going to be closer to hundred or more? How is that going to affect the intersections and the roads and fire and all the other concerns that we have to look at.”

Citing the lack of a vehicle crash analysis report and other traffic concerns along with the presentation of the subdivision as a phased project without a phased development application in place, Holmquist said she had no choice but to vote for the denial of the preliminary plat.

“I am really struggling with this one. I don’t know if it is ready for prime time at this time.”

Brodehl lamented a proposal packet that was lengthy and hard to follow.

“We have a packet that is mostly about a 125 lot proposal and we have to figure out what that means for a 51-lot subdivision. It has been very difficult for me to put this into a packet that makes sense to read from one end to the other,” he said. “I think it would have been better to have pulled this off the planning board’s agenda and had them start from scratch with a packet for just a 51-lot subdivision, period.”

“I think they need to look at the findings and the changes we have done and come up with a different plan at this point,” Abell added.

Located between Peaceful Drive and Bigfork Stage Road (the area behind Dairy Queen to the south and El Topo Cantina to the north), the currently vacant area, the proposed development would have filled the area with houses and connected the two roads while also providing for the paving of a section of Bigfork Stage Road.

The planned development has faced strong local opposition since it was proposed, drawing more than 150 people to a contentious BLUAC meeting in July, a marathon five and a half hour session that ended with the committee voting to recommend denial of all three applications.

The committee heard from more than 20 concerned citizens during the meeting, citing a list of issues with the proposed development, from traffic concerns and school capacity to road conditions and fire hazards while others were more concerned with maintaining Bigfork’s historic small-town feel before making their decision. 

A mountain of written comments and three hours of public comment led to the county planning board postponing its decision on the project at their August meeting and the topic was tabled once again in September as the board requested an additional traffic study.

After hearing numerous traffic safety concerns from Bigfork citizens at their October meeting, the board voted to recommend denial of a proposed zone change and planned unit development for the project, but also recommend the approval of the preliminary plat for 51 residential lots.

While the County Commissioners will still hold a public hearing for the proposed zone change November 9 and one for the PUD November 21, the denial of the proposed Phase I of the development leaves the future of the project uncertain.

“What this means for us, I can’t say because I don’t know. I imagine we will have to reevaluate with our client and see how they would like to proceed,” WGM Group Project Manager Michael Brodie said. “It is interesting, their decision. This is a 51-lot subdivision that is in compliance with the existing zoning that would provide a considerable amount of improvements to Bigfork Stage Road. I understand that nobody really wants anything to happen there but if we are going to add houses, they should go where there is already access to municipal services. At some point, somebody is going to develop that area.”

What is certain moving forward is that any future development plans would have to go through the complete review process once again, from BLUAC, to the planning board and then county commissioners.

Those opposed to the proposed development in attendance Tuesday celebrated the decision.

“We thank the Commissioners for doing their due diligence on this proposal and we are grateful they share our concerns about what this proposed development would do to Bigfork,” Citizens for a Better Flathead executive director Mayre Flowers said.